- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

Some defensive schemes are simply not optimal for a quarterback making his first career start to face. The same goes for a guy just a week removed from a concussion.

Either way, Maryland enters today’s game against Georgia Tech at Byrd Stadium in a less-than-ideal situation.

Whether it is Chris Turner or Jordan Steffy under center, the Terrapins (3-2, 0-1 ACC) will be forced to contend with the Yellow Jackets‘ relentless blitz. Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta unleashes a rush designed to disrupt backfields and wear down opposing offensive lines.

“You have to keep being sharp,” guard Jaimie Thomas said. “That’s the only way you can stop it. If you show you can’t pick it up, they’re going to keep coming. If you can pick it up, they’re going to still keep coming. You just have to be ready for it.”

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said this week that of 350 plays covering four games he broke down, the Yellow Jackets blitzed 295 times. The ceaseless pressure would be a lot for Turner to process should he get the call over Steffy, who last week suffered a concussion last at Rutgers. Friedgen said he would be a game-time decision.

Friedgen listed Steffy as questionable throughout the week, and that adjective could describe how well he might handle the Yellow Jackets (3-2, 1-2). The junior took 17 sacks in 4½ games and Maryland ranks 110th nationally in sacks allowed (3.6 a game).

Georgia Tech’s ceaseless attack averages 4.2 sacks and 10.4 tackles for loss, both third nationally, and is coming off a six-sack outing in a 13-3 defeat of Clemson.

“They look awesome on film,” Turner said. “They’re sharp and they’re fast. The hardest part with Georgia Tech is they disguise their blitzes so well with their safeties. That’s the key to understanding where it’s going to come from.”

Even watching Georgia Tech’s safeties does not reveal the entire defensive package. The Yellow Jackets normally keep a safety in the middle of the field and at times will drop a defensive end into coverage to shadow a tight end or a receiver.

That frees up two linebackers to make a push toward the backfield, which explains why Georgia Tech’s Philip Wheeler is the only linebacker in the top 10 in the ACC in sacks with 4.5.

“He’s normally not bringing more than five guys,” Friedgen said. “You just have to find out which five he’s bringing. He always has a guy as a center fielder, unless you get down in the red zone and he’ll take a chance. He’s got a good scheme, he’s got good players and they know the system. I’m amazed at how well he makes adjustments.”

He, of course, is Tenuta, whose frantic blitzing packages have made him one of the sharpest coordinators in the game. Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey gives Tenuta wide latitude to run the defense as he sees fit.

It often leads to flustered opponents. When Maryland lost 27-23 at Georgia Tech last year, it had a chance to take the lead only to absorb consecutive sacks in the final minute.

“We’ve been blitzing for six years and that’s what we believe in,” Gailey said. “We’re going to be an aggressive defense. We’re going to come at you. We try to set the tempo rather than having the tempo dictated to us. That’s been our theory on defense and it’s worked fairly well for us the last few years.”

Tenuta’s ploys do more than disrupt the passing game. By bringing an extra man on nearly every play, it permits defenders to penetrate the backfield and wrap up rushers for a loss early in a series. It also forces offenses into passing situations rapidly and puts great pressure on the quarterback.

The quandary deepens further because of how much a play must speed up. Go too quickly and the Yellow Jackets are likely to pad their plus-seven turnover margin. Go too slowly and a punt is sure to follow within plays.

“The quarterback’s not going to have as much time,” wideout Danny Oquendo said. “The line’s going to have to block for a little bit longer, the quarterback is going to have to make his reads a little faster, and we have to get open a lot quicker.”

The man facing this conundrum may well be Turner. Steffy was not medically cleared as of early Thursday evening, pushing Turner closer making his first start since high school.

The sophomore did not take a sack in the second half against Rutgers despite facing his share of six- and seven-man blitzes. Although Turner didn’t have to contend with the sheer volume of the Georgia Tech rush, he has had a week to prepare for its aggressive defense.

“He’s kind of really showed me some things,” Friedgen said. “We’ll see when the bullets start flying, because they will start flying. Tenuta is going to come after him with everything he’s got.”


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